New study looks for link between Winnipeg’s urban trails and heart health

Heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death and disability in Canada. To date, most proposed solutions to reduce the burden of heart disease in Canada have focused on individualized interventions aimed at changing behaviours, like becoming more active or quitting smoking. Population-level interventions that nudge large segments of the population towards healthy lifestyles have shown promise in other countries, but have been understudied as solutions in Canada.

Dr. Jon McGavock, a research scientist at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba and an associate professor in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba, is changing that. In his study, he is examining the expansion of Winnipeg’s urban trail network to determine if people living in neighbourhoods close to trails have lower rates of heart disease.

Urban trails are tracks of land dedicated to walking and cycling that are separate from roads and traffic. Between 2010 and 2012, Winnipeg’s urban trail network was expanded by approximately 110km, affecting roughly 50 neighbourhoods. With help from partners such as the City of Winnipeg, the Heart & Stroke Foundation, Winnipeg Trails, the Province of Manitoba, and the Forks, Dr. McGavock and his team are comparing changes in rates of heart attacks, high blood pressure, and diabetes within neighbourhoods that received new trails during that time period and those that did not.

“If results from our study indicate that improved heart health is linked to proximity and ease of access to trails, hopefully this will encourage the continued development of Winnipeg’s trail network, and more frequent use of the trails by Winnipeggers,” said Dr. McGavock. “The ultimate goal is reduced overall rates of heart disease across Winnipeg and Canada.”

“The design, infrastructure and layout of a community can encourage or discourage participation in physical activity, including active modes of transportation like walking and cycling,” said Christine Houde, Heart & Stroke director, government relations and health promotion, in Manitoba. “We applaud Dr. McGavock’s efforts to enhance our understanding of the health impacts of community planning where we live, work and play.”

The study began in October, 2016 and is expected to wrap in October, 2019. To learn more about how the built environment can improve the lives of Manitobans, consider attending next week’s Mode Shift 2018 summit (April 15-20) featuring experts from Winnipeg and around the world. More information: